Thursday, January 30, 2014

In Memoriam--

I have just finished reading Marilyn Robinson's Gilead for the third time.  Near the end of the novel John Ames reflects back on his years of solitude after the death of his first wife and the quality of joy he has found in the wife and son of his old age.  He writes that for years he cherished his loneliness as an act of fidelity to his deceased wife and child.  In a passage, written to his 7 year old son,  he makes his suffering love and joyful consummation part of one long movement:

I can tell you this, that if I'd married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I'd leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother's face.  And if I never found you, my comfort would be in the hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord.  This is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world--your mother excepted, of course--and revealed to me in your sweet ordinary face.

This time reading these line reminded me of my mother and my great love for her.  It also reminded me of a defining experience in my own life.  It had to do with a boy that I loved and admired and imagined possibly marrying. There were some harsh words said about my mother, but they could have been forgiven.  It was the sense that I wouldn't ever be able to communicate to this person how precious my Mom was to me.  Who knows?  Life is contingent and love opens up all kinds of alternative futures.  Yet, it was no small part of my falling in love with Doug that he understood the crazy method of love in my mother's madness and that he encouraged me to stay true to my knowledge of that love. 

My love for my mom was not mere stubborn commitment. It was not an act of Christian fidelity-- loving that which is unlovable, sticking with someone despite their illness.  As she aged she wasn't easy to be with,  but I never wished for a different mom or a more normal family.  I don't and I have never wanted to have lived a more obviously good life. It is through her eyes that I still see the world as  "slant."  Her perspective is still there-- prodding me to see the truth as gritty, uncomfortable, perhaps, convoluted.   She provided a hermeneutic.  I see the wisdom in  "folly" whether it be the "folly of the cross" or the disarming love of Satyagraha, or in an intellectual life that risks disorganization for the sake of truthfulness.

 Which is just to say that even if I had been born to a mom who smelled of baby powder and apple pies, who came to all my games, and who wrapped me in quilts of improbable domestic security, I believe there would still be part of me searching for the other mom who woke at 3am, to write poems, to tear up the linoleum, to paint flowers on the floor boards, and who loved me madly.      


Sunday, May 19, 2013

For my Jo

Lilac petals on newly turned soil
and the sun, speckled green
and lift up your head
and I lift it blueward
there is my face and I
taking your hand
and you look low
and your hand chills
and I want it whole
future, present, past
and you
are a little taller than my bosom
and I would like to
hold you to the sky
watch your curls dance
and hear that giggle
once more.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Mom and the Cult of Motherhood.

Here's the thing: my Mom was a very good Mom.   She also had a very, very serious mental illness.  I know that there are lots of people for which this is simply not case.  It can sometimes be pretty vexing to have one's activities curtailed by another persons phobias, or to try and grow as a person in the company of someone whose illness makes them constantly narcissistic, or to handle the embarassment of being a teenager with a Mom that ferociously resists societal norms.  These things are tough.  I get it.  It is also tough to be loved with a love that fiercely transcends rationality, but there are worst things.  Like not being loves at all.  And, that, not being loved, that was never something I faced. 

I get it now.  How much work it takes to make a hot breakfast every morning.  To have the patience to take a constantly chattering kid on long walks and adventures. To let your kids use your precious art supplies or to be patient as they are constantly ripping the pages out of the notebooks in which you are doing writing.  It takes time to make sure your kids feed the chickens and the goats.  Its hard to balance grace and discipline.

My Mom was very far from perfect and there are ways that she was incredibly selfish and cruel and unnecessarily jealous.  But, she cared for me in ways that now seem excellent and even exemplary.

The best thing about love is the way it blows away perfection.  It can blow away so many things. . .seemingly solid things... things proven to be dross really--the perfectly clean house or permed hair or dinner that looks like it came out of the Sunday circulars. Poof.  Blown away: reckoned with.  Perfect does not stand a chance next to love.  Effortless always looks shabby next to faithfulness...
Good always subverts the gloss.  When there is nothing else, then and only then, does it becomes perfectly clear that all we can really cling to is our very best--Love, stronger than death.   

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I haphazardly post something to this blog every now and then.  I mostly post mundane stuff with a side of theologicalizing.  I don't even know why.  I posted several very short reflections, around the time of my Mom's death, that might eventually become part of a spiritual memoir.   That seemed purpose-filled enough.  There are some reflections on scripture (also a short stint of purpose.)  But, mostly there are just a smattering of short, poorly written recounts of days spent well, or, as often as not, in a state of melancholia.  Now this post is not really an exercise in self-abnegation--like anyone who writes.... I would just like to know "why?"  Some people blog because they want to write a book, or because they want to keep family updated, or because they have some burning issue that they want to scour and discuss, dissect, and propagate.  This blog has really been none of these things.  More often than not, it has simply replaced the writing that I might have done in a journal or a diary--not as personal, but, not, not personal.  There it stands.  I think more than anything this writing seems to be an exercise not unlike Hansel and Gretal's trail of breadcrumbs.  Here it is.  Some meager memories.  Some sign that I was here, or there, or wondering through the woods.  Nothing substantial, but maybe, enough to find my way back now and again.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Yesterday, we went to Niagara Falls with cousin Danielle.  We took a ride on the  Maid of the Mist.  It was an unseasonably cold Mother's Day and we basically had the entire boat to ourselves.  It seems impossible that one can get so very close to the Falls.  It was raining and the mist was terrific and we could hardly keep our eyes open for the spray of the water.  I kept looking at these incredible turbulent waters, the Falls that look like a giant wave cresting before us, or an oncoming flood, or like standing in the middle of the Red Sea, or on the deck of the Ark.  It felt wild, sublime (in the Romantic era sense), and yet completely safe.  We stood on the steady little boat that had trudged out countless times to the edge of the Falls, we were coated in our blue slickers, even Sam laughed, we were secure. This was the most overwhelming thing that I had ever seen.  To stand here was too be very close to very basic force and life.  It made me think of death and on this Mother's day not surprisingly of my Mother's death.  It seemed okay then--dying--like it might, when you got real close, seem surprisingly okay.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sam is teething

Teeth Monster
What this means?  It means that I am a basic mess.  It means that everything else in the universe is suffering and the epi-centre of suffering is Samuel's lower jaw.  It means that we are all weak, vulnerable, made of very precise, delicate, and easily disrupted material.  It means that we are human.  It means that I likely won't give that great of a lecture on Islamist strategy and Strategic Nonviolence.  It means that I will try my best to secure employment for the summer and the time that follows this week, but it will be even more stressful than normal.  It means that I need a nap.  It means that I want to beg out of Worship Committee.  It means I shouldn't be blogging (even a long paragraph) and I certainly shouldn't be on Facebook.  It means that I should be thankful for a supportive partner, a great babysitter, for patient house-mates (who buy me chocolate bars.)  It means that we are once again buried under our weight in dirty clothes.  It also means that Samuel will have teeth and be able to eat meat someday and that I am gonna go take a nap.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking for a robin

When I was in Atlanta I bought a little stuffed "beanie baby" Robin for my Mom, who loved spring more fiercely than anyone I have known.  I forgot to give it to her.  The things has tossed around with me these last 10 years or so.  Sucked on by toddlers, thrown into toy bins, rolled into a pile of laundry; again, and again, it turns up.  It is a lovely reminder of my Mom and the way she clung on to hope and love even when her mind and feelings were betraying her.

The Sparrow in My Eaves

I first noticed her
               in the spring--
Building her nest in my
                 back eave.

Little and busy.

All summer she
                cares for her babies. . .

Bringing them food
               and helping them along.

I worked and played.

Without me realizing
   it, one day she was gone.

Next summer she'll be back.

              And I've made a promise.

 Mary Molyneux Hatlem